WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START (IN YOUR GARDEN)

Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show

February is the time when people start thinking about their garden. If you're like me, winter hasn't been fun since the New Year and you really just want things to be alive again.

Then seed catalogs arrive in the mail.

If you're an experienced gardener, you probably couldn't be more excited.

On the other hand, perhaps the sunflower seedling you grew in kindergarten didn't survive its car ride home. If you're a new homeowner with a new-to- you landscape, maybe you have no idea where to begin, and you're terrified.

What do you do when you don't know what to do? I recently found myself in this type of situation. I think it parallels diving headfirst into a garden project rather nicely.

The Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show takes place during the first weekend of February. I helped set up the group's display last year. This year, when I volunteered to help with the display again, I found out that I would be in charge. . .

In charge. GULP.

Here's how orchid shows work. The hosting orchid club invites other orchid clubs to its show. Each club's members bring orchids to set up a display. (It is best to think of these displays as something halfway between a garden and a walk-in flower arrangement.) American Orchid Society officials come to judge the quality of the orchids as well as the arrangement of those orchids in the displays.

Putting any melodrama aside, this is not a high-pressure situation. Cultural conditions are not a concern; the plants will only be there for a weekend. My fellow OGG members, Sue and Bruce, were helping me. If I were to do something truly appalling, Sue and Bruce would have intervened for the greater good. Even though I dislike redoing things, I knew I could easily change things if needed.

Also, it's difficult to create an ugly display with pretty orchids -- not impossible, but you'd have to work at it. One key point is that I was limited to the material our members brought. My starting point consisted of a palm tree, 100 square feet of floor space, and a stone wall.

 
Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show
 

Step 1: Do what appears to be the first thing

We needed a place to put the orchids, and so we set up the shelves.
I thought about gardens/landscapes/artwork that I like. I like things to be asymmetrical. I don't like things to be square. I put some shelves diagonally in the back corner of our display, opposite the palm tree, and other tables and crates where I thought they might look best.

 
Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show
 

Step 2: Do the next thing.

As is frequently the case, each step made the next step apparent. It was time to arrange the plants. With a handful of exceptions, orchids are grown for their flowers, and so I wanted to show the flowers off as much as possible. I followed these guidelines:

  • Flowers must contrast with their background.
  • Flowers must face the spectator (Obvious, no?).
  • Plants should touch each other as little as possible.
  • The first plant I placed was the white orchid on the pedestal in the back left corner, to the right of the palm tree (Coelogyne cristata, if you're interested in such things.) It's a hanging plant, and I wanted the flowers to hang down in front of a black background. That corner was shaded from the light coming in from the windows, and I knew that white would show up better there than the other flower colors I had. The only other notable plant placements are several dark colored arching orchids I placed in front of the stone wall.

I then literally arranged every other plant in the display around these four.

 
Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show
 

Step 3: Keep doing the next thing until you're done.

After arranging the orchids, we added little decorative touches. In our case, this included some cork logs, a bench, a stone owl, and lots of wet sheets of moss.

 
Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show
 

In sharing this experience with you, I'm hoping to encourage you to go boldly into your next gardening adventure. If you need some general principles to use as you dream about your gardening season, here they are:

  1. Think about what you want from the space. This will guide every other decision you make, like a map to your destination.
  2. Think about your possibilities and constraints. For you, these probably include time, light, weather, soil, space, money, etc.
  3. Place the difficult things first. Some things can only go in one place. For me it was just a couple potted orchids. Maybe for you it's a 2000 lb. stone birdbath.
  4. When you really still don't know what to do, pick something inexpensive and temporary and do it. Plant some annuals. The first thing will teach you what the next thing is, and so on. Yes, you'll have “learning experiences”, but that's part of the adventure.

It's your garden. Remember to have fun with it.

If you need someone to brainstorm with, let us help! Fill out a contact form or click to our photo gallery for inspiration! 

 
Madison Orchid Growers' Guild's annual orchid show
 

My co-conspirators and me, from left to right: Bruce, me, Sue